The active ingredients of medicines are drugs - substances which alter the way in which your body works. Medicines prevent things getting worse or help bring about a cure if the body is not working properly. Not all drugs are medicines; e.g. alcohol and nicotine are drugs but not medicines. The study of drugs and their action is called pharmacology. The art and science of making and dispensing medicines is called pharmacy.
Many medicines have been extracted from plants. One example is salicylic acid which is present in willow bark and leaves and has been found to have an effect in curing fevers. Salicylic acid has two functional groups attached to a benzene ring; the carboxyl group -CO2H and the hydroxyl group -OH. The hydroxyl group attached to the benzene ring is called a phenol group.
Salicylic acid has the formula:
The structure can be determined by:
When a pharmaceutical company discovers a new medicine, it takes out a patent to prevent other companies from making and selling the medicine, having not had to find the research and development costs. The patent only applies to one country, so many patents have to be taken out. Patents only last for a specific amount of time. The pharmaceutical company will then give the product a brand name. Most pharmaceuticals have three names:
For example 2-(4-(2-methylpropyl)phenyl)propanoic acid has the generic name ibuprofen. It is marketed as Brufen by Boots and Lidifen by Berk.
The pharmaceutical industry is a high-profit industry but with very high research and development costs - in excess of £100 million to discover, test and get on the market a single medicine.
Before a medicine can be marketed it must meet stringent safety regulations. In order to meet these extensive testing needs to be carried out. The purity of a medicine must be confirmed before it can be dispensed. This is carried out in a pharmacy department. The standards are laid down in the British Pharmacopoeia (BP), and the pharmacist must go through the procedures for identifying and assaying the medicine.
Part of this site was last updated on 21st January 2009.
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